Pimlico Academy headteacher steps down after row over ‘racist’ uniform policy

Daniel Smith will resign at end of month, school says

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 19 May 2021 20:37
<p>Pupils staged a walkout protest at Pimlico Academy in March</p>

Pupils staged a walkout protest at Pimlico Academy in March

The head of Pimlico Academy has stepped down has stepped down following a race discrimination row over its uniform policy.

Daniel Smith announced on Tuesday he would resign as the London secondary school’s principal at the end of this month.

The school made headlines this year amid anger and protests from students who claimed uniform rules discriminated against ethnic minority pupils.

Students also protested against a union flag being flown outside the building and the school was sprayed with graffiti accusing leaders of racism.

In March, pupils chanted “we want change” and walked out of class early in protest against school leadership, while National Education Union members in the school “overwhelmingly passed a motion of no confidence” in the headteacher.

Last month, Mr Smith said the flag would not be flown outside the school while it undertook a review into the matter and he said aspects of the school’s uniform policy had been revised following concerns.

On Tuesday, Pimlico Academy said Mr Smith had announced his intention to step down as principal and would leave the role on 31 May.

“We thank Mr Smith for his unwavering commitment during this time which has been very difficult due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic,” the school said in a statement.

“We are pleased to announce that following his secondment as Senior Vice Principal, Mr Anthony Oulton, will take up the post of acting principal from the start of next half term.”

It added: “Mr Oulton, who is well known to staff and students at the academy, will be working with Mr Smith to ensure a smooth transition in the coming weeks.”

A new uniform policy ushered in by Mr Smith last year sparked the recent protests.

It said hairstyles that “block the view of others” would not be allowed, which was seen by parents and pupils to target afro hairstyles.

The policy also said hijabs “should not be too colourful” and said students who “choose to wear a headscarf” must “completely cover the hair”.

In September, after the new policy was introduced, a school spokesperson said: “The rationale for this is self-explanatory and doesn’t relate to any specific hairstyle.” They added the new policy reflects a “professional environment”.

A petition over the uniform policy - signed hundreds of times - accused it of bringing in “a lot of discriminatory changes”.

“We as students have the right to express ourselves however we choose, and also have the right to have our natural hair whether it be big hair small hair or loads of facial hair or no facial hair,” it said.

The petition added: “We should be able to wear any coloured Hijabs we want as its part of a lot of people’s religion.”

The petition also said pupils “should be able to show their shoulders” and “wear as much make up as we like”.

In late March, a parent told The Independent earlier this year they were not shocked after graffiti was found on the school saying “‘Pimlico Academy…run by racists…for profit!!!”.

“I knew it would’ve been coming because there’s been ongoing unhappiness among students and parents about the school’s discriminatory uniform policy and lack of awareness around issues to do with race,” they said.

The school rolled back changes to the uniform rules last month following anger and allegations of discrimination against ethnic minority pupils.

The redrafted uniform policy says hair must be maintained “in a conventional style” but there is no mention of styles that “block the view of others”.

It adds that headscarves and turbans must be black or navy blue, but there is no mention of “colourful”.

On 1 April, the day after students boycotted classes in protest, Mr Smith issued an apology along with the updated guidance.

He said: “The right to protest is a civil liberty which, in the United Kingdom, we all enjoy, one that was hard-fought for and which not everyone in the world is fortunate to have.”

“Our students are bright, courageous, intelligent young people, passionate about the things that matter to them and acutely attuned to injustice”, he wrote in a message to parents. “I admire them hugely for this though I regret that it came to this.”

Mr Smith added: “I want to conclude by apologising: to students who continue to inspire me daily and who have not always had their voices listened to closely enough; to my colleagues, the staff at Pimlico Academy, who continue to serve the students with such overwhelming dedication during difficult times; to parents and carers who, we know, always have the best interests of their children at heart and; to the wider community with whom we are committed to working positively with in the future.

He added: “This is a moment for me and the Leadership Team to reflect deeply and to plan carefully so that, going forward, all who work and learn here can feel confident about doing so in a positive, scholarly, respectful environment. “

Last September, a Union flag erected outside the school was also ripped down and set alight by pupils, according to The Guardian.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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